Japan earthquake: Why older people could be the hardest hit


By Rosaleen Cunningham

An older man is rescued from the wreckage after the Japan earthquake. An older man is rescued from the wreckage after the Japan earthquake. (c) Associated Press The massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck off the east coast of Japan on Friday 11 March was one of the largest ever recorded. 

The Japanese authorities are reporting that thousands of people have been killed by the quake and the tsunami that followed. Many thousands more are missing. 

Older people heavily affected

Given that a quarter of the Japanese population is over 60, older people have been heavily affected.

The response is being led by the Japanese government which is amongst the best prepared in the world for such disasters. Japan has announced it is not seeking international humanitarian assistance.

Japanese Self Defence Forces (SDF), police, national rescue teams, Red Cross medical teams, as well as Disaster Medical Assistance Teams have all been involved since immediately after the tsunami struck.

Different support needed in developed countries

HelpAge International and its partners are therefore not launching an appeal or setting up an immediate humanitarian response.

HelpAge and its partners ordinarily respond to disasters in developing countries where the support needed after a disaster is quite different from a developed country.

In poorer countries, infrastructure is usually weak, governments often are struggling to meet overwhelming needs and many people are already extremely vulnerable, even before a disaster.

Older people should be included in the recovery effort

We do know, however, that Japan has a very high proportion of older people (23% of the population are over 65). Initial reports already suggest that many of those who died are likely to be older people - which could prove one of the defining characteristics of this disaster.  

HelpAge has worked over the last few years to ensure that older people are included in all humanitarian responses. We hope to share this expertise in the coming months with agencies working on the ground in Japan.

For example, our new shelter guidelines include practical suggestions on how to ensure older people are considered in emergency housing programmes. These have been developed in collaboration with the International Federation of the Red Cross.

For more information, you can read our CEO's blog on the Japan earthquake and tsunami.

Post a comment | 4 comments

Comments submitted for this page

  • Magdalene (21 March 2011)

    I do not agree with HelpAge here: All reports about the Tsunami aftermath show clearly that the situation is not so very different from what it would be in a less developed country, and an immediate (!) humanitarian response would have been needed from all sides! Just because the Japanese people (the elderly in particular) do not cry for help easily does not mean they do not need it. My sympathy goes out to all of them, and I hope to read more soon about "shared expertise" in action.

  • BILAL SHEIKH (18 March 2011)

    HelpAge must start their work to improve the psychosocial condition of older people in Japan as this is most common after disaster.

  • Zack Mwangi (17 March 2011)

    First is my condolence to the people of Japan. Thanks to HelpAge for the update.

  • Bakhiet Obey (17 March 2011)

    I think that mitigation of negative impacts of natural disasters on elderly requires a greater awareness of organizations working in the field of disaster, whether national or international organizations, and here, as I believe that the intervention of HAI in coordination and providing technical support with regard to the special needs of the elderly before, during and after a disaster is something very important because many of local and international organizations are not specialized in matters of the elderly. One of the topics that I think its important to focus on , for example (how to meet the psychological, social and physical needs of older persons in the Cases of natural disasters).

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